My college roommate, Valerie Robertson Westcott, came to visit me today after not seeing one another for 20 years. She wasn’t long in the house before she began telling stories to my son, a captive audience.
“Did you mother ever tell you about the time she turned off the light in our dorm room and said, ‘I bet I can get into bed before the light turns out’ and she proceeded to dive into her desk instead of her bed and slit her nostril open? I turned on the light as she moaned and her face was covered in blood. She could dilate her nostril and the whole soft tissue (ala) would flare up and down. When she went to the infirmary, they suggested they not butterfly bandage it and keep it open so she could breathe better with her stuffed up cold. ”
“Did she ever tell you about the time she was stretching a canvas as she sat on her bed, wearing a thin nylon robe, braless and she came down hard on the staple gun and sliced off the tip of her nipple?”
My son just looked at me. I said, “That was also the year that I jumped off the metal trestle bridge in town into the river and tried smoking cigarettes, but got dizzy and walked into a telephone pole. I decided that was not my sport.”
This was Val’s and my first year of college- at Indiana University of PA- Punxsatawney branch…1973. So small a college that only a handful of boys were in the men’s dorm and a handful of girls in the women’s. They sat directly across from one another. We had “house-moms” who lived with us in a dorm room whom we made crazy. That was their last year “taking care of students.” They never came back after our year.
We had one school building- a condemned elementary school next to our dorms. We went to college in our slippers. We all got very close.
We were all there for reasons like we applied too late to get onto main campus. Preoccupied kids.
Then we moved on to the main campus the next year. Val and I were both art students. She helped train me for my new profession- a life drawing model. The professional model often didn’t show up and instead of all of the students going home, I wanted to make some extra money and model. But I needed to practice, get up my nerve.
Val sent me into her crowded closet. She got on her bed with her large newsprint pad and stick of charcoal and announced that she was ready. I slid open the door, stepped out, undid my rope and dropped it. I began striking poses on our tiny cold linoleum dorm room and she helped me develop a repertoire. Shit like that bonds you.
Although Val was from Rochester, NY and I was from Reading, PA, she married a guy who grew up in the next block from my parent’s home, who also went to Punxsy. I was in her wedding, of course.
(40 years ago- I am second from left)
Val’s dad was a big wig at Kodak. He got his company to give me all my film for hiking the entire 2,100 mile Appalachian Trail and the 2,600 mile Pacific Crest Trail. They gave me mailers and developed them all for free. Then brought me to Rochester and taught me how to put together an impacting artistic slide presentation. I had a lot to be grateful for with Val in my life.
A few years ago Val got cancer. I got scared I would lose my dear friend. You only have a few college roommates in life. Only one as special as Val.
I said if I found out I ever had cancer, I would get in my car and travel the country visiting old friends, reconnect, definitely say hello, maybe say good-bye. I thought then- why wait until something bad happens, do it now. So I decided that when my new book is published about raising and educating my children alternatively, I would take to the open road and give myself that gift of visiting old friends who made an impact on my life. Speak at their local bookstore- make it a book signing tour. Val just beat me to it. She came to me. And when we hugged after all those years, it took us right back to Indiana University- wild & crazy girls, free in the world for the first time. I love you roomie! There is on one else like you.